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Counter-revolution in the Labour Party and the coming storm

28-Oct-2020John McInally, first published on August 20 on Counterfire.org

John McInally, long-standing activist and former member of the PCS executive, contributes to the ongoing discussion on the future of the Labour Party and the prospects for the wider left

Corbyn’s defeat and new Labour leader Keir Starmer’s clear intention to extirpate socialism from the party has demoralised many socialists. But fatalism and pessimism is misplaced. Momentous developments are unfolding in Britain and internationally. The coming period will be one of continuous, deepening and irreversible crises. Capitalist strategists are reeling from the triple crises of Covid-19, the eruption of social movements like Black Lives Matter and the devastating economic collapse. Such crises will become the norm not the exception and will unfold not just in long timescales but in coming months and years.

It is increasingly evident to working people capitalism is incapable of resolving the huge problems facing humanity and millions are already searching for solutions to the exploitation, chaos and violence endemic within it. Massive forces will be unleashed as the working class begins to fight back. The right-wing reformism offered by Labour’s “new management” has no solutions.

Campaign to destroy Corbyn

Labour’s Manifesto did not in itself represent a fundamental challenge to capitalism but exposed what decades of cuts and privatisation had wrought on society and presented a vision of a socialist alternative. The establishment’s deep fear of socialist ideas explains the malicious ruthlessness of the anti-Corbyn campaign but this reflected the establishment’s weakness as much as its strength.

When Corbyn became Labour leader the forces of reaction, led by the press and media, with the BBC and the liberal Guardian the most vicious, moved into action. The BBC is the most sophisticated state propaganda outlet on the planet, and the envy of every dictator on it. Even after Corbyn resigned their campaign goes on, the BBC “journalist” suing Corbyn and Blairite demands he is expelled from Labour are a clear message to all socialists – dare challenge us and we’ll hound and destroy you.

Starmer and Labour electability

Framing Labour as the “patriotic” party is Starmer’s strategy for electoral success. His every utterance is designed to assure the establishment he is their man. Under him Labour will never be an effective opposition to the Tories, let alone a radical alternative. His credo that “..now isn’t the time for party politics” and “constructive opposition” is parliamentary cretinism. The Tories are responsible for tens of thousands avoidable Covid-19 deaths and are corruptly channelling billions of pounds to outsourced companies owned by relatives and friends. Starmer’s failure to expose and challenge this explains why Labour is up to ten points behind in opinion polls. Prospects for a surge in support for Labour look grim.

The Red Wall and Scotland

The effect of anti-Corbyn propaganda was a factor but was not the principal reason the so-called Red Wall seats fell – Starmer’s pro-Remain strategy was the main cause. In dismissing Brexit supporters in these areas as stupid racists, the Blairites demonstrated their utter contempt for the working class generally. It is not ruled out Labour can win back these seats but the negative perception of Labour the Blairites created will prove a significant barrier to overcome.

Labour has lost Scotland. In all probability this is irreversible. Starmer is a dyed-in-the-wool British nationalist and chauvinist, and his uncompromising unionist stance shows he and Labour’s tone-deaf Scottish leaders do not understand the underlying class reasons driving demands for independence. They are utterly incapable of addressing the national question in Scotland. They wrongly believe Labour can be the force around which unionism can coalesce but they are in for a big shock. Unionist forces will almost certainly form around the Tories who will ruthlessly appeal to reactionary sectarian elements in Scottish society leaving Labour have no strategy but open class collaboration with the British establishment– exactly what sank them in the 2014 Independence Referendum.

Imperialism, racism and antisemitism

Starmer is wholly committed to the forces of reaction that hold the British establishment together. He gives unconditional support to the police and security services. Ex-MI6 chief Dearlove’s public endorsement of him and his asinine Cold War rhetoric toward Russia and China, while maintaining silence about Russian oligarchs’ donations to the Tories, speaks volumes. He will seek to re-position Labour as loyal supporters of American and Western imperialism.

As an open supporter of right-wing Zionist nationalism, his weasel words designed to distance himself from the more egregious actions and atrocities of the Apartheid Israeli state convinces no-one. Opposition to Israel’s occupation is growing in the West and attempts to re-position Labour as a largely uncritical supporter of Israel puts him on the wrong side of Labour members, and history.

Starmer played a significant role in weaponising antisemitism for factional and political advantage but is now faced with the reality this “strategy” is turning into its opposite and is now a millstone around his neck. Having lost control of their own monstrous creation the Blairites shocking behaviour is increasingly exposed and no amount of spin, lies, interdicts or cover-ups will prevent the truth coming out.

Starmer’s description of the Black Lives Matter movement as a “moment” was no slip of the tongue mendable by Unconscious Bias training. It showed he neither understands nor supports the struggle against institutionalised racism. His silence over revelations in the leaked Labour report of the humiliating and disgusting racist filth thrown at black women MP’s like Diane Abbott is despicable. Cowardly claims these comments were “taken out of context” convinces no-one and all this may well have significant negative electoral consequences for Labour.

Learn the lessons – no “unity” with Blairites

Starmer’s counter-revolution is nowhere near a completed process and success is by no means guaranteed. Premature obituaries for the Labour left assume the future direction of the party is a settled question. But this is not so.The party’s future will be decided by the struggle of living forces in a period of instability in which demands for socialist alternatives will grow and exert a potentially momentous impact on the labour and trade union movement. Blairism has no sustainable future, its only real role now is to serve its big business backers in cleansing Labour of any vestige of socialism.

Ironically, the Blairites are more aware than many socialists that a key lesson of Corbyinism is that Labour is capable of transformation, but only if the left pursue their aims with the same ruthlessness they themselves exhibited. The right-wing must be resolutely opposed both inside and outside the party. When they demand unity and say the “Tories are the real enemy” they should be reminded that when Corbyn appealed for unity their response was “No, the Tories are not the main enemy – you are!”

While it is true Johnson has an eighty-seat majority and the Blairites now “lead” Labour, “worship of the established fact” and the idea this is set in stone is mistaken. This kleptomaniac Tory government may well yet implode through further disastrous management of the pandemic and the unfolding economic crisis: they may even be forced into major concessions by mass opposition from the unions and emerging social movements.

Beginnings of a fightback

Labour’s counter-revolution is being carried out with uncompromising ruthlessness. The left must learn the lessons from this, it cannot afford to repeat past mistakes. “Unity” with the Blairites is fantasy and led to Open Selection being kicked into the long grass. 90% of Constituency delegates supported this democratic demand but 90% of union delegates, including the left-led Unite, voted against. Failure to drive through mandatory re-selection for MPs boosted the Blairites who drew the conclusion it was only a matter of time before they re-claimed the party. Mandatory reselection must now be the non-negotiable position of the left and at the very top of its agenda.

Starmer’s attacks are creating a backlash and anger is likely to deepen. The “settlement” to the saboteurs was a misuse of members’ money and stinks to high heaven as those authorising it were the main beneficiaries of this treachery.

The astounding response for Corbyn’s legal defence fund has surpassed £350,000. Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey’s warning on the legal “settlement” given to those who sabotaged the 2017 general election campaign is welcome and significant - but must be followed through. Left union leaderships should withhold funding from Labour if the leaders pursue witch-hunts, do not support strikes or attempt to drop socialist policies. Union sponsored MPs who do not support strikes or socialist policies should have their sponsorships automatically withdrawn. Big business cash for influence “donations” to pursue anti-working-class interests like privatisation of our public services must be ended. The left must send an uncompromising message to the Blairites - if you don’t support us, we won’t support you. And that goes too for Labour councillors implementing cuts.

Left unity and the United Front – for a socialist programme

Division and demoralisation are natural consequences of defeat. While the fatalism that says there is no point in socialists remaining in Labour is understandable it is a strategic error. Such thinking suits the Blairites: Blair himself stated 300,000 would need to be expelled from the party to make it save. The postponement of meetings due to the pandemic has helped the right but the big battles over policy are yet to come. Effective resistance to the jettisoning of socialist policies can and must be built. Leaving Labour at this stage only strengthens the forces of reaction in the party itself and in the wider establishment.

Fighting for socialist policies within Labour and campaigning in our workplaces, unions and communities are neither mutually exclusive nor contradictory. Blocked on the political front workers will increasingly turn to their trade unions and broader social movements. Labour will not be shielded from the impact of these movements. For socialists, the principal task is to unite the left whether within or outwith Labour and build a united front on a socialist programme that puts the concerns of workers at its core with the aim of challenging and defeating the Tories.

To meet its historic task of building an effective socialist opposition to the Tories and Labour’s right-wing the left must adopt a disciplined approach that rejects sectarianism, prestige politics and the elevation of sectional interests over that of the wider movement and coordination that matches that of our class enemies. Sectarian self-interest could result in multiple left candidates standing in upcoming affiliated union elections allowing right-wingers coming through the middle: this would be a self-indulgent betrayal of every worker in the country. Every effort must be made to have one left candidate in these elections with the criteria a firm commitment to a socialist programme and firm opposition to the Blairites.

There is one clear issue the entire movement can and must unite on- defence of our National Health Service. The putative US trade deal will lead to the full privatisation of the NHS and must be opposed by every union in the country, not just those representing health workers. For too long the cuts and privatisation programmes of successive governments have proceeded without serious challenge. Failure to defeat this deal would represent an historic defeat for the working class a public health catastrophe for generations to come. To oppose it means building for mass, coordinated industrial action, including potentially, a general strike.

Corbynism proved the Labour Party can be transformed but only if the left understands half measures in opposing the forces of Blairism and the Labour bureaucracy will not suffice and only lead to further defeats. The challenges ahead are immense but so too are the opportunities for millions to be won to socialist ideas - the future is ours, not the Blairites.

Here are other views on the balance sheet of the Corbyn movement: